During this month of October, a great deal is happening in the life of the Church, especially emanating from the seat of St. Peter in Rome. The formal meeting of the Synod on Synodality, as called for by Pope Francis, occurs in Rome from Oct. 4 through Oct. 29. Present at the Synod will not only be bishops, but many representatives of all walks of life within the Church. Pope Francis, on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, just issued a long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation, Laudate Deum (Praise God), on the global social issue of climate change, and it is receiving a great deal of worldwide attention. On Oct. 15, the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, the Holy Father is also going to issue an Apostolic Letter on the popular St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as this is the 100th anniversary of her canonization and the 150th anniversary of her birth. St. Thérèse is one of the favorite saints of the pope. It is fitting that October is filled with such life within the Church as it is the month of Mary, the month of the Rosary. Mary stands as a model to all of us of what the Church is all about and what our life in the Church should be. She surely is present at the Synod as the perfect member.
We can say that Mary represents the beginning of what synodality is all about on the occasion of her visitation to Elizabeth after the angel announced to her that she would be the Mother of the Lord. Synod literally means “journeying,” and that is exactly what Mary did as she went to visit Elizabeth. At that visit, present with her were the Lord, conceived in her womb, Elizabeth and John the Baptist, conceived in her womb. It was a joyful occasion as all those present were attentive to each other as being the initial community of the Church with the Lord present in it. So joyful was this visit that John the Baptist leapt with joy in the womb of Elizabeth at the greeting of Mary.
There has been a great deal of misunderstanding as to what the Synod in Rome, which is taking place, is all about. Many are expecting it to be concerned with issues of Church teaching, practice and doctrine, especially as relating to changes within the Church. Others are expecting it to be similar to the working of government officials in discussing and debating about issues. Pope Francis has made abundantly clear that this is not what the Synod is all about. After much preparation and consultation, the Synod is meant to help the members of the Church to listen to each other carefully in order to hear the Holy Spirit speaking, as He continually does, within the midst of the Church. It is meant to help us better understand the teaching of the Church. As Pope Francis so emphatically stated at the opening Mass for the Synod on Oct. 4, “Here we do not need a purely natural vision, made up of human strategies, political calculations or ideological battles. We are not here to carry out a parliamentary meeting or plan of reformation. No, we are here to walk together with the gaze of Jesus, who blesses the Father and welcomes those who are weary and oppressed.” The primary focus of the Synod is, in the pope’s words, “to refocus our gaze on God, to be a Church that looks mercifully at humanity.” The Synod is not intended to change the Church but to help us live its mission, as did Mary.
In his homily for the prayer vigil before the beginning of the Synod, Pope Francis expressed the need of silence within our world today. He has done this on many other occasions, especially in the face of a plethora of communication coming to us with different and conflicting messages of ideological meanings. The pope expressed that silence is fundamental to prayer, and that it enables us to listen to God by listening to each other. Mary is a perfect example of listening in silence within the Gospels. She says very little, but speaks volumes with the example of her life. The Lord praises her for listening to the word of God and carrying it out in her life. At the prayer vigil, Pope Francis said that truth “does not need loud cries to reach peoples’ hearts.” Mary is a perfect example of this. The Rosary is a contemplative prayer in which we silently dwell on the Lord’s life with Mary as the background. Such silence is essential to encountering God. The world today certainly needs silence, where there is so much distraction and manipulation. Pope Francis emphasized that silence is essential, and asked that the Holy Spirit grant, through the Synod, “the gift of listening.”
In his Apostolic Exhortation, Laudate Deum, Pope Frances stresses that solutions to the climate crisis require a view of humility so necessary today. He says, “Let us stop thinking then of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and timeless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a humbler but more fruitful way.” Certainly, Mary is a model of the humility that the pope refers to. Her humility is what raised her to be the first to share in the fullness of life. Her humility is what enabled her to listen effectively to the Lord and to others.
This month of October, this month of the Rosary, gives us much to study and reflect upon in terms of the life of the Church. Our lives, like Mary’s, must be a realm of quiet and a humble abode of contemplation. Mary lived by the heart’s memory, which penetrates to the core of things and so opens them to understanding. This is the only way we can have true joy. It is only by focusing on God, through His creation and in the life of the Church, that we find the meaning of our lives. May Mary stand as an example to us of what the perfect life of a Christian is all about, and may our contemplating the mysteries of the Rosary, especially as we pray for the Synod, put the matters of a noisy and busy world in proper perspective.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 6, 2023